When the PM goes to the country...

THE SUNDAY WALK; The village of Ellesborough is the start for a walk around Chequers, the Prime Minister's country estate, nestling among the peaceful Chiltern Hills

Ellesborough in Buckinghamshire shows signs of having seen better days. The Butler's Cross village shop has closed after 140 years of trading and the parish council minutes on the public notice board record recent vandalism. The good news is that the villagers are safeguarding the delightful country footpaths running through the Chequers estate by appointing a Footpath Monitor.

After catching up on local news at the Russell Arms I set off towards the church, which rises like a castle from the trees. Once round the bend the pavement leaves the road to run uphill past St Paul's and St Peter's Cottages into Ellesborough churchyard.

At once I recognised the backdrop for many a Sunday photo-call. Harold Macmillan brought President Eisenhower to morning service a week before the 1959 election was called. Margaret Thatcher worshipped here during the Falklands war, and John Major came with his wife, Norma, on his first Christmas Day as PM. Opposite is a back entrance to Chequers with an inviting footpath sign, but it would be a mistake to be tempted. The public footpath soon turns off into a field. I took the better option behind the bus stop to a kissing gate and up the worn path across the sloping field.

The way continues in the same direction beyond a stile in the band of trees. To the left is Beacon Hill and as the path begins to curve back towards the fence on the left there is a view west over wooded Ellesborough Warren. Soon after a stile and steps I reached open ground and kept forward to join a path curving through the trees ahead.

Here, where primroses were beginning to appear, I crossed the western driveway to Chequers and beyond a stile followed the side of Whorley Wood to join the Ridgeway. The national trail took me through a kissing gate for a first view of Chequers in the sheltered fold of the Chiltern Hills.

By turning right along the side of Maple Wood I became more aware of the Elizabethan manor's sheltered position. Rising above the house is Coombe Hill, the highest point in the Chilterns, from where you can see seven counties.

In 1921, when Lord Lee gave his home as a country residence for the Prime Minister, he wrote: "... the better the health of our rulers the more sanely they will rule, and the inducement to spend two days a week in the high and pure air of the Chiltern hills and woods will, it is hoped, benefit the nation as well as its chosen leaders."

But Chequers has long had a government connection and been at the centre of the nation's affairs. The earlier 12th-century house belonged to an Exchequer official whose family took the name "de Chekers". In the new Tudor house Lady Mary Grey, Lady Jane's sister, was held prisoner for two years.

Soon after the path turned south I went left over a broken stile. From here the Ridgeway runs gently downhill to kissing gates each side of the main driveway now known as Victory Avenue. Churchill presented the beech trees in 1955 in memory of his "momentous days" at Chequers.

Here you are inside the main gate with a security camera following your progress. The Ridgeway continues over a field and a road into a wood. At a four-way junction I abandoned the national trail to go left on a path which runs north near the edge of the wood. At a road I turned left to a T-junction to pass by the Chequers side entrance. The footpath continues opposite the lodge but at a second divide one must go down to the left on a path paved with tree roots. A lane runs out of the wood between Coombe Hill Farm Cottage and the long building of Coombe Hill Farm back to the road. By going right along the road in front of the farmhouse I found the start of a pavement running gently down to Butler's Cross with a fine view of Ellesborough Church on the hill.

Norma Major, who has come to love Chequers enough to write its history, says that the house holds many happy memories including family milestones such as her silver wedding anniversary. Whatever happens on 1 May, John and Norma Major are going back. By convention the outgoing Prime Minister is offered the use of Chequers for the first few days out of power.

t Use OS Explorer 2, Chiltern Hills North map. Ellesborough is 1 1/2 miles west of Wendover on Chiltern Railways' Marylebone-Aylesbury line. (At present the main road from Wendover is closed to through traffic and therefore pleasant for walkers.) Bus 323 (325 Sundays) runs from Aylesbury and Princes Risborough (Bucks travel hotline 0345 382000). A version of this walk appears in "25 Walks - The Chilterns" by Leigh Hatts (the Stationery Office Books; pounds 8.50).

Voices
voices Simon Usborne: It's not about political correctness. It's about decency
Sport
Wojciech Szczesny watches the ball cross the line as Garath McCleary scores for Reading
football All the latest from Wembley as Gunners face Reading in semi-final
Life and Style
health
News
i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Bid / Tender Writing Executive

    £24000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: With offices in Manchester, Lon...

    Guru Careers: Marketing Executives / Marketing Communications Consultants

    Competitive (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a number of Marketi...

    Recruitment Genius: Marketing Executive

    £20000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This well established business ...

    Ashdown Group: Management Accountant - Manchester

    £25000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Management Accountant - Manchester...

    Day In a Page

    Where the spooks get their coffee fix: The busiest Starbucks in the US is also the most secretive

    The secret CIA Starbucks

    The coffee shop is deep inside the agency's forested Virginia compound
    Revealed: How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Loch Ness Monster 'sighting'

    How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Nessie 'sighting'

    The Natural History Museum's chief scientist was dismissed for declaring he had found the monster
    One million Britons using food banks, according to Trussell Trust

    One million Britons using food banks

    Huge surge in number of families dependent on emergency food aid
    Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths 2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

    2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

    Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths trove
    The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey, 25 years on

    The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey 25 years on

    The space telescope was seen as a costly flop on its first release
    Did Conservative peer Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

    Did Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

    A document seen by The Independent shows that a week after he resigned from the Lords he sold 350,000 shares in an American company - netting him $11.2m
    Apple's ethnic emojis are being used to make racist comments on social media

    Ethnic emojis used in racist comments

    They were intended to promote harmony, but have achieved the opposite
    Sir Kenneth Branagh interview: 'My bones are in the theatre'

    Sir Kenneth Branagh: 'My bones are in the theatre'

    The actor-turned-director’s new company will stage five plays from October – including works by Shakespeare and John Osborne
    The sloth is now the face (and furry body) of three big advertising campaigns

    The sloth is the face of three ad campaigns

    Priya Elan discovers why slow and sleepy wins the race for brands in need of a new image
    How to run a restaurant: As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food

    How to run a restaurant

    As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food
    Record Store Day: Remembering an era when buying and selling discs were labours of love

    Record Store Day: The vinyl countdown

    For Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
    Usher, Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert as part of the Global Poverty Project

    Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert

    The concert in Washington is part of the Global Citizen project, which aims to encourage young people to donate to charity
    10 best tote bags

    Accessorise with a stylish shopper this spring: 10 best tote bags

    We find carriers with room for all your essentials (and a bit more)
    Paul Scholes column: I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England

    Paul Scholes column

    I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England
    Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

    Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

    The heptathlete has gone from the toast of the nation to being a sleep-deprived mum - but she’s ready to compete again. She just doesn't know how well she'll do...